Writing to Essay Prompts Study Guide

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Updated on Oct 1, 2011

Writing to Essay Prompts

If I can say something honest about my feelings and thoughts and problems as a minority of one, then won't it be meaningful to all the other individual minorities of one? - DORY PREVIN (1929–  ) AMERICAN SINGER AND SONGWRITER

This lesson will help you learn how to respond to the various writing prompts your teachers are likely to assign. In addition, you'll learn how to adapt to other writing situations.

By Now You should be feeling fairly comfortable with the various types of essay formats and the organizational steps you need to take at the beginning of any writing process. In this lesson, you'll learn strategies and tips for responding to assigned prompts.

For the great majority of writing projects you do as a student, you will be writing in response to assigned prompts. A prompt is a word that describes the question you are being asked to answer or the writing assignment you are given. Some teachers use the word prompt and other teachers use the word assignment. Both mean the same thing. As you are aware, writing prompts can require you to write in numerous and varied situations:

  • in-class writing sessions, either formal essays or informal journaling and freewriting
  • homework assignments
  • standardized essay tests, including grade-level exit exams

In addition to these formally assigned prompts, think of all the situations in which you find yourself writing in other formats that require you to conform to explicit or implicit expectations. Such writing situations include

  • writing letters, including thank-you notes
  • answering questionnaires
  • filling out forms
  • constructing your Facebook page
  • texting your friends

When you stop to think about it, you'll realize that there are almost no situations, except perhaps freewriting, in which you are writing without some expectations of what your writing will look like, either in form or in content.

The basic principles of what constitutes good writing remain constant of course, but the specifics of any given assignment can have a great impact on what and how you choose to write. In that sense, every writing project is unique and requires expert tailoring if it is to succeed in its goal of communicating effectively. Here are guidelines to follow in your writing process, no matter what the specific assignment is.

Take Time To Plan

What may surprise you is that the most important portion of the time you spend on any writing assignment is not the time you spend writing. Rather, it is the time spent preparing to write. Taking the time to prepare properly, which includes taking time to consider carefully what the prompt expects of you, is the most valuable time you will spend on any writing task. Resist the temptation to start writing immediately, just to get your project over with. In the end, your essay will be better, and will take less time to write, if you've devoted a certain amount of your writing time to thinking and planning.

Timed essays, such as the ones you are asked to write during a specified amount of time during class, are usually the ones that strike terror in the hearts of most writers. There is a natural tendency to feel panicky, and to want to start scribbling right away. Resist that urge! Instead, stop and think and plan. Your best bet is to assign a certain percentage of the time you are allotted to be used solely for planning. This planning time will make the remainder of your writing time less stressful and more productive.

Indeed, you cannot go wrong as a writer if you think of every writing assignment as a timed assignment. Instead of fiddling around, complaining about the assignment, postponing getting down to work, and then interrupting your writing time with texting, phone calls, snacks, errands, anything to avoid getting down to the work at hand, try this: Establish a time (half an hour, one hour, two hours) in which you will get your essay written, set the timer, and begin. You'll have a time goal as well as a writing goal to reach, and you'll be thrilled when the time is up and the work is done.

  • Budget your time within the writing period you have decided on. Remember to leave enough time to edit and revise.

Using your time carefully will help you stay on track. You'll have a schedule to keep as well as a writing goal to reach, and you'll be thrilled when the time is up and the work is done.

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